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Touring of USA – an embarrassing experience?

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WS Member Piotras's picture
Touring of USA – an embarrassing experience?

I am back home in Europe after my nearly four weeks long touring of south Florida - a great time all together, and this feeling is getting even stronger each time my memory brings me back this unusual experience… I was a homeless!

Pedaling along Florida’s roads it soon became obvious for me that the local biking scene is nearly totally populated by the standard “after hours” leisure bicyclists, uniformed in accordance with bike magazines´ advertising sides: colorful helmet, colorful shirts, tight black pants and riding a fancy, expensive racer bike… And this is exactly the picture that other users of the state’s roads, and also people in the streets, associate with a sporting activity that involves riding a bike, and as a bike rider you are expected to fit this picture. If your own appearance does not meet this stereotype view , there is only one social category that corresponds with your presence – you are a homeless.

You are riding a dirty bike, heavily loaded with double panniers, front and back, another bag or two resting on racks above panniers, bottles and small bags attached to the frame... (yes, your all possessions), your face burnt all over by the sun ( naturally, you have nowhere to go to find a shelter), your outfit apparently does not look new and fresh (poor, without means for daily upkeep)… Yes, you are homeless!

And no, it is not a product of my sick imagination. During my trip I met a couple of other touring bikers, who made similar observation. They also were homeless!

The funny thing was that the “real” homeless, you see them practically in every town, also looked at me as if I was one of them! It happened that they greeted me, or started talking … I had no problems with playing this role. :-)

But I was extremely surprised when one day a car stopped and the driver handed me 20$ to help me in my fortuneless existence… Another day, early in the morning when i was about to pack my tent after spending the night on the road side, a good hearted driver delivered … a hot breakfast to me; there were others who gave me (together with my bike) a lift a bit in my direction, another wanted to share a diner with me… I tried to explain they were mistaken, but in vain… you look like a homeless, you are a homeless.

It should not then be any surprise that hikers have similar observations. One host of mine, a devoted hiker, with experience of major American hiking trails, could confirm this “homeless phenomenon” , as it is also typical for his discipline. As long as you keep to the trail, or its direct surroundings, your strange appearance: odd clothing, boots, unshaved face and specially – your backpack, doesn’t cause any reaction, people there are accustomed with it, but a bit farther from the trail, it is completely different – you have to be prepared to find yourself in the role of a homeless.

I did not experience any aggressive attitude against me as a homeless. Certainly, people spontaneously try to avoid any closer contact with you, and it is obviously your thing to turn the situation to your advantage.

WS Member ceo's picture
A "house-less" bicycle tourer

I agree with your observations. I have completed 5 cross country (self contained) tours and have been stereotyped as such (and shown random acts of kindness) also. I enjoy touring the USA this way and meeting all walks of life. I just remember this quote (unknown author) on my tours.
"People may sterotype you for being different and not living up to societies standards; but deep down inside they wish they had the courage to do the same thing as you"
Enjoy life on two wheels and tailwinds always. Peace.

Chris "CEO"

WS Member WS Member's picture
a different view

Instead of looking at your experience as slightly negative, you might think of it like a positive experience, indicating the kindness of strangers. I rode the Trans American route in 2014 and did not feel like I was homeless but there were many pleasant experiences where strangers found an opportunity to be kind. It renewed my sprit in mankind.

Unregistered anon_user's picture

Your experience is typical. I've had a meal left at my tent site in a campground, and been given money. I 'passed it on.' All fun stuff.

Occasionally, the truly homeless pass through on loaded bicycles. If I see them, I attempt to interact, and do give them money. Win-win deal every time.

WS Member WS Member's picture
"Homeless" Tourer...

Exactly. When I did my first tour which was a cross the USA jaunt I observed the same. Mothers would steer their children away at convienience stores and folks would not make eye contact but no donations received. Too funny a report.

WS Member WS Member's picture

Amazing, that's what i felt on my last trip,self contained, and towing my microlight (paramotor) in a trailor...When i was visiting a small village (in France ) riding my Bike, à woman said to her little daughter showing me with her finger : " yes darling, this man is having is housse behind him ".I was' nt very glad, even if i recon, this is not common... With the trailor nobody greeted me, without it every cyclist did !!!

WS Member WS Member's picture
Touring of USA – an embarrassing experience?

Hello Piotras,
Thank you for this candid, heartfelt account of your trip.

wishing you clement weather and tailwinds,

WS Member WS Member's picture
Well, I _am_ homeless, but

Well, I _am_ homeless, but that is by choice. (Retired and wandering the world)

If someone wants to give me twenty dollars or a meal, I won't argue.

If they want to give me a hundred dollars, then I will certainly try to explain that homeless does not automatically mean poor.

WS Member WS Member's picture
Hmmm. What a great idea for

Hmmm. What a great idea for financing a bicycle tour :-) Of course I'll have to trade in my shiny new Disc Trucker with Vaude panniers and Tubus racks for something a little more used and worn :-)

When reading your post my main reaction is "what great kindness, regardless of how misguided it is". On the other hand when I cycled the Oregon coast a few years ago I ran into a true homeless vagabond who was cycling across the US, as a senior he was camping for free at the hike/bike sites, and stocking up at the food banks along the way.

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